You know when you have the flu and you feel dreadful for two weeks and then one day you wake up and don’t feel dreadful anymore?
That’s me. Waking up in my 50s.
You guys, my 40s were hard. At age 40, I miscarried the tiniest little baby you’ve ever seen. At 43, 44, and maybe 45—I don’t know, it’s kind of a blur—I let a neurosurgeon play a few games of Operation in my spine. And at 46, I had a different kind of surgery when I lost a relationship I didn’t want to lose.
Suffering takes a toll on the body. I know, I’m a real Nostradamus here for you today. But seriously, are any of you feeling it? Thinking you’re keeping pain bottled up even though it’s for sure spilling out? We don’t always identify this in real time, but here’s a back-door way to tell. Suffering sometimes masquerades as anger, and anger usually finds a target. How are you treating your husband? Your kids? Your co-workers? Yourself?
If you’re idling on anger, there’s probably a harder feeling underneath like fear, shame, worthlessness or rejection. Dealing with these things hurts. It’s really hard to do. Yet, suffering makes us surrender and that’s where we meet Jesus, because He surrendered, too.
It encourages me to remember that suffering has bookends, and those bookends are named joy. Joy gives context to our pain (Consider it joy when you face trials…), and it’s the prize waiting on the other side (For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross.)
That long stretch in the middle, though. That can be a long dark night, can’t it? I’m learning to graft in and hold on tight. When Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” He described a relationship forged in pain. Vinedressers know that it hurts a vine to graft a branch in. It hurt the Son to graft sinners in too. In the very same verse, Jesus said “apart from me you can do nothing.” I used to think that sounded callous. Now I hear kindness.
Stay near me.
Stay so close.
It’s impossible to do this without me.
I’m your source for everything good.
I’m your strength for everything bad.
Jesus was cut so we could be healed. And sometimes that requires cuts from us, too.
Our old way of holding grudges? That can go. Our old way of living paralyzed by fear? We can be free. Our old way of medicating the pain simmering under the surface with wine or stuff or controlling behaviors? We don’t need those things to navigate this life.
Cutting hurts, I know. My dog bit me last year. On one really scary afternoon, internal streaks of red infection began traveling down my finger. The doctor switched my antibiotic to attack the infection from the inside. But he also had to lance my wound to free it from the outside. That really hurt and I might have screamed an ALL CAPS word. But getting out of pain often requires pain.
It did for the Son, who went through agony so we could find our way back to the Father. Whether you’re navigating the loss of a damaging relationship, the death of a dream, or the healing from trauma, it might for you, too.
This I know: We can trust the vinedresser’s careful hands. He knows what to cut now. He knows what to cut later. He prunes what He expects to grow. And He puts the shears down and sustains us when the wind, rain and fierce elements of this world lay us low.
Looking back, I’m not sure I’d reshuffle the deck on my 40s. Suffering makes joy snap to attention. Suffering sloughs off our rough edges. If I had never endured suffering, I’d know less of Jesus. I’d probably cheapen His sacrifice. I’d miss the taste of true joy. And I don’t think I’d return those lessons to Sender.
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